Tuesday, May 6, 2014

J/Crews Thrive in Stormy Newport-Ensenada

J/124 Marisol- sailing Newport to Ensenada RaceJ/125 TIMESHAVER 2nd Overall, J-ALMIGHTY Wins J/120s
(Newport Beach, CA)- Humongous swells, whipping wind and overnight rain met sailors competing in the 67th annual Newport to Ensenada Race that that is usually a calm jaunt down the coast to Mexico.  For many it was the first time anyone had seen squally conditions going down the 125nm race track from Newport Beach, CA down to Ensenada, Mexico on the Baja Peninsula.

The weather forecast for this year's N2E had a lot of promise, but with a few wrinkles thrown into the mix.  For several days, many models showed an unusual micro-low (a “mini-me” of a cyclone) circulating just offshore of Los Angeles, producing breezes in the southerly quadrant. The big question was how long would it last on Friday morning before the start, how strong the wind would be from the SSE and how quickly would it dissipate when the huge depression from the NW rolled in with the promised gales offshore and 15-25 kts winds along the coast.

As one might imagine, whatever was forecast was going to be completely wrong.  Indeed it was off by at least 50%.  The basic scenario played out but not like what many experienced navigators on SoCal races expected.  With the wx report models all over the place, it was creating a certain amount of anxiety for many of the top boats in the fleet.

As the first classes took off around 1100 hrs with visions of “margaritaville and umbrella drinks” dancing in their heads, the weather was spectacular, southerly breezes with sunny, clear skies and puffy white clouds scudding across the horizon.  As the afternoon wore on, the breeze continued to pick up from the SSE (125-130 degrees or so); the micro-low just offshore produced 10-17 kt SSE winds for the first 5 hrs of the race.

J/120s starting off Newport Beach for Ensenada RaceThe vast majority of the fleet took off on port tack, anticipating the new frontal shift moving into the WNW quadrants in the mid-afternoon. As the fleet pounded to windward in a huge swell with wind-driven chop on top, it was clear that many boats were anxious to get onto starboard tack and head down the coast.  By mid-afternoon, many boats were tacking when the breeze was still around 145-150, still left of the "closest tack angle" to the finish line.  The forecasted gradual shift never happened, the wind died completely early evening with huge NW swell generated by the incoming front with an overlay of southerly chop making for a "washing machine" effect.  The whole fleet stopped, particularly inshore boats.

It seems the smart money was to go offshore until the wind direction hit 150-155 degrees, going from port tack favored VMC to the finish at Ensenada (bearing about 148 degrees) over to the newly favored starboard tack.  While most of the fleet tacked far too early, the top boats all waited until TWD was around 155 degrees or greater.  Ultimately, the outside boats were getting the new, veering breeze much earlier and far longer than boats inside.  By around 1700 hrs, the new WNW breeze line filled under a long band of clouds (aligned SSW/NNE) as the front moved ever so agonizingly slowly onto the course area.  For those boats 10+nm offshore or more, the very long delayed shift into the 260-280 deg quadrant filled in, it started blowing 10-15 kts and increased into the 12-20 kts range under certain cells moving through the course.

Taking advantage of the changing winds was the uber-fast team sailing the J/125 TIMESHAVER with owner/ skipper Viggo Torbensen.  Their outstanding performance earned them a 2nd in PHRF 1 class and 2nd PHRF overall, missing the class and overall win by mere minutes!  One of the earlier boats to tack off onto starboard, the J/125 DERIVATIVE sailed by Mark Surber, finished in 4th over an hour behind them.  Taking 6th in class was the J/160 INNOCENT MERRIMENT sailed by John Lyon.  In PHRF B class, the J/122 T.K.O. sailed by John Raymont took fourth in class.

In PHRF C, the one-design fleet of six J/120s had a duel for top honors that wasn’t settled until crossing the finish line off Ensenada.  In the end, it was Mike Hatch’s J-ALMIGHTY that won class by a mere 70 seconds over Gary Winton’s SHENANIGANS after 125nm of smashing, bashing, flopping and surfing all the way down the coast.

In the nine boat PHRF D Class Seth Hall’s beautiful navy blue J/124 MARISOL took 2nd.  In the twelve boat PHRF E Division, John Shulze’s J/109 LINSTAR took third and fellow J/109 PATRIOT sailed by the duo of Jon Turner & Don Albrecht took sixth place. Finally, the seven boat PHRF G class Juan Lois’s J/105 ROCINANTE took second place.  For more Newport to Ensenada sailing information